Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom will write his most historic chapter on June 18 at the Royal Ascot race meet in England when he becomes the first Kentucky Derby winner to run at Ascot since Triple Crown winner Omaha in 1936. And yet his celebrated story actually begins at the picturesque Denali Stud in Paris, Kentucky, thousands of miles away from his much anticipated run in the Queen Anne Stakes next week. He even draws interesting parallels with Denali's Craig Bandoroff, both having overcome career-threatening injuries to end up at the top of their place in the sport of thoroughbred horse racing.
At final odds of 21-1, Animal Kingdom came into 2011's Kentucky Derby as just another face in a 19-horse field. He won in commanding fashion but could not repeat his winning form the rest of 2011 while overcoming an injury he suffered during the Belmont Stakes in New York City.
Likewise, New Jersey native Bandoroff has also suffered setbacks in his career due to injury, giving up a promising career as a jockey after a crippling accident in 1974. It would have been easy to count him out, much like the chorus of nay-sayers who thought Animal Kingdom may go down as another one-hit Kentucky Derby wonder. Instead, this setback eventually set the stage for many of the top racehorses over the last couple decades including Animal Kingdom.
Twenty-three years after opening his doors, Bandoroff is best known as founder and owner of Denali Stud (Denali is translated from the Cree language to mean "The High One" or "The Great One"). Denali has become synonymous with excellence in the thoroughbred industry, consistently placing among the top 5 consignors of bloodstock and providing an idyllic place to foal and raise thoroughbreds.
Little did Bandoroff know that in 2008, a foal by the unheralded Brazilian stallion Leroidesanimaux out of an even less heralded German mare would forever place his operation in the annals of racing history.
“Animal Kingdom was foaled and raised at Denali for Team Valor, which is spearheaded by our longtime friend and client Barry Irwin,” Bandoroff said. “Denali sold Animal Kingdom as a yearling, and my wife and I were members of the Team Valor partnerships that bred and raced him.”
After a disappointing 2012 season ending with a narrow loss in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita Race Track, Animal Kingdom was pointed to the Dubai World Cup this year. Despite a journey half way across the globe, Animal Kingdom once again showed his champion's heart by winning the world's richest race with a purse of $10 million. His historic racing career will end on June 18 in the Queen Anne S. (G1) and with a victory will give him Grade/Group 1 victories at arguably the three most prestigious race meets in the world on three different surfaces -- dirt, turf, and all weather.
“We named Denali in honor of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America,” continued Bandoroff. “We stated from Day One that we only wanted to play this great game at the highest levels. Animal Kingdom has taken us there, and then some.”
The select clientele who utilize Denali to board their horses, sell their horses, or buy their horses, also choose to operate at the highest levels. Under Bandoroff's direction, Denali has sold $403 million worth of bloodstock at auction since 1990; has ranked among the top five yearling consignors six times and among the top 10 broodmare consignors 11 times since 2000; has sold sales toppers in both Europe and the U.S.
Horses foaled, raised, and/or sold by Denali include: Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner Real Quiet; Breeders' Cup winner Uncle Mo; Breeders' Cup winner Pluck; Champion Freshman Sire Stravinsky; Champion Left Bank; English champion David Junior; Canadian Champion Leonnatus Anteas; Canadian Champion Spring in the Air. Horses boarded at Denali include one of the all-time greats, Hall of Fame Champion Serena's Song.
Animal Kingdom will begin his stud career in Australia this summer, standing at John Messara's famed Arrowfield Stud. In 2014, he will return to Kentucky to stand at Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud.